Noroviruses are a group of viruses that cause acute gastroenteritis, also known as stomach flu or winter vomiting disease.
What is Norovirus?
Noroviruses are a group of viruses that cause acute gastroenteritis, also known as stomach flu or winter vomiting disease. This is not influenza or the flu, which is a respiratory infection caused by the influenza virus. Noroviruses can happen at any time during the year.
Stomach flu outbreaks occur in Yukon communities every year. Outbreaks of illness are common in nursing homes, daycare centres, schools, childrens’ camps and on cruise ships.
Within a day or two of being exposed to a Norovirus, you may have an upset stomach and start vomiting, often followed by cramping, chills, fever and diarrhea. The illness usually begins suddenly and lasts only for one to three days. Sometimes complications occur if people lose too much fluid from vomiting and diarrhea and do not drink enough fluids. This is more likely to occur with babies, the elderly and persons with weakened immune systems. Severe illness is very rare, and hospital care is usually not required.
How does the virus spread?
Norovirus can be found in the vomit and diarrhea of people who are sick. When someone vomits, people nearby may be exposed to tiny droplets in the air.
The virus can be spread to the environment, including surfaces like countertops. The virus can survive for a long time on surfaces such as countertops or sink taps if not properly cleaned. People can become ill when they touch these surfaces and then place their hands in their mouth.
The virus can be spread among people if they do not wash their hands or if someone with this illness handles food, water or ice.
Currently, medications are not usually used to treat Noroviruses. Persons infected with a Norovirus usually get better on their own within a few days.
Antibiotics should not be taken for Norovirus. Antibiotics only work to fight bacteria and not viruses.
It is important that you drink enough clear fluids, such as water, so you do not get dehydrated. You should also drink other fluids such as juices, clear soups, or oral rehydration fluids for vomiting or diarrhea.
See a doctor if diarrhea or vomiting lasts more than two or three days, or if dehydration is a concern. If three or more persons are ill at the same time, report this to your local public health unit.
Preventing the Virus
- There is no vaccine or medication that can prevent Noroviruses.
- The key to preventing the virus or reducing it from spreading is hand washing, especially after using the toilet, changing diapers or before eating or preparing food. Proper hand washing requires warm running water, soap and cleansing of the hands for about 30 seconds.
- Bathrooms need special attention and should be disinfected with a bleach solution (1 part bleach with 9 parts water).
- Any food that has been handled by a person with the virus, or exposed while a person vomited, should be thrown-out.
- Dishes and utensils should be washed with hot water and detergent or in a dishwasher.
- Laundry should also be washed with hot water and detergent.
- People who are ill and handle food or those who provide care for others should stay away from work while they are sick and for two days after they are better. Even when diarrhea and vomiting have stopped, the virus can still be in the stool (bowel movement) for as long as two weeks. Be sure to wash hands carefully and often.
- If someone is ill with a Norovirus, discourage visitors at home. It is best to wait for a couple days after everyone is better and the house is cleaned and disinfected.
- When a family member is sick with vomiting or diarrhea, it is a good idea for that person to try to stay in a separate room and not be around others. Everyone in the family should wash their hands often with soap and water. Use different towels or paper towels for drying hands to help prevent people from getting sick.
Hand washing is the most important thing you can do to help stop the spread of germs that cause illnesses such as colds, the flu, diarrhea, or vomiting.
Washing your hands and your kids' hands is the best thing you can do to stop the spread of germs. When you wash your hands it helps to remove the germs that cause illness. We pick up these germs on our hands from touching things around us such as people, animals, raw foods, pets and many objects in our daily lives. Wiping your child's nose or changing his/her diaper is a common way to get germs on your hands. You can't avoid getting germs on your hands, but you can reduce the chance of infecting yourself and others by knowing when to wash.
You should wash your hands before or after you do things that have a high risk of either spreading or picking up germs.
- Prepare or eat food (especially raw foods)
- Feed a baby or child (breastfeeding moms need to wash their hands too!)
- Give a child medicine
- Change a diaper
- Help a child use the toilet
- Use the toilet yourself
- Blow your nose
- Take care of a sick child
- Touch pets or animals
- Clean pet cages or litter boxes
- Wipe your child's nose
When should children wash their hands?
- Eat or handle food
- Have a diaper change
- Use the toilet
- Blow their nose
- Play outdoors or in sand
- Play with pets or animals
What is a good way to wash your hands?
- Wet your hands under warm running water.
- Scrub all parts of your hands with soap for at least 15 seconds.
- Rinse under warm running water.
- Dry hands with a clean cloth or paper towel.
- If you are in a public restroom, use the towel to turn off the tap.
- Use hand lotion after washing to prevent skin from getting sore. Waterless hand rinses (alcohol-based) are an easy way to clean your hands. They are as good as a hand wash as long as your hands aren't visibly dirty.
How can you wash your baby's hands?
- Wash with soap and a warm, wet, fresh towel (either paper or cloth).
- Rinse with another fresh, warm, wet towel.
- Dry well.
Source: Canadian Pediatric Society (http://www.caringforkids.cps.ca/) Adapted with permission.
Reducing the risk of getting infected from cleaning up vomit or diarrhea
If you are cleaning up vomit or diarrhea, you can reduce the risk of getting infected by doing the following:
- Wear disposable gloves. Reusable rubber gloves may be used, but they should be washed after use.
- Use paper towels to soak up excess liquid, and put the paper towels and any solid matter directly into a plastic garbage bag.
- Clean the soiled area with soap and hot water. The same cleaning cloth or sponge should not be used to clean other areas of the house as this may spread the virus.
- Disinfect the area that has been washed with a freshly made bleach solution (must be mixed daily). Make a solution of bleach with 1 part bleach and 9 parts water. Household cleaners other than bleach do not work for most of the viruses that cause vomiting and diarrhea. (Virox, a commercially available product is another recommended product)
- Put all cleaning cloths and disposable gloves into a plastic garbage bag.
- Wash your hands well using soap and warm water for at least 30 seconds.
Cleaning public areas that may be infected
Staff who are required to clean public areas that may be infected should take the following steps to disinfect properly.
Use bleach (5.25%) mixed 1 part bleach to 9 parts water
What to clean?
- Pay particular attention to all common hand contact areas such as door handles, faucets, water fountains, food handling areas (if open and used during the games).
- Be especially thorough in all bathrooms and common areas used during the Games. Ensure staff clean washrooms in a manner which avoids cross-contamination from soiled or dirty areas to cleaner ones. For example, clean and disinfect toilet areas last with designated rags which are not subsequently used to clean other areas. Please do not use any wiping cloths used in the bathrooms for areas outside the bathroom as an extra precaution against spreading any virus particles. (After the standard washing and disinfection of any cloths and such products they can be used again.)
- Let the disinfectant (bleach - 1 part to 9 parts water) air dry if possible after application. This allows a long contact time for the bleach to work and avoids spreading any virus.
- It is very important to clean surfaces before the disinfection step. Organic matter not removed by cleaning reduces the disinfecting ability of bleach.
Please contact the Yukon Communicable Disease Control at (867) 667-8323 for further information or to report possible outbreaks.
Adapted from: BC HealthFiles #85 & 87, April 2003, October 2005
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